Hold the Chihuahua

Fast food is, in essence, a less expensive mockery of real food. In the case of the Texas Taco Factory, the fare is twice removed from reality. It caricatures Tex-Mex, which is itself a bastardization of Mexican. In a way this extra degree of separation works to its advantage: The food is so distanced from the original that distinguishing between the two is like evaluating an impersonation of someone you don't know. While this may preclude comparisons with meals served in Mexico, it doesn't mean we can't gauge how good an imitation Tex-Mex the restaurant serves. Tacos, burritos, nachos, fajitas, and quesadillas are, after all, among the most popular snack foods in America, and that's just about the whole enchilada regarding the Taco Factory's menu.

Oh, yeah -- they serve enchiladas, too, though only as one of the components in the Texas Super Sampler ($5.99), along with a taco, tostada (also available only in this dish), a run-of-the-mill "Spanish"-style rice, and a smooth, almost soupy purée of refried beans (borracho beans, which include bits of bacon, onion, and cilantro, are worth the 25-cent substitution charge). The enchilada and tostada, perhaps because they're not regular menu items, were overly minimalist mimicries: the former a flour tortilla rolled around melted yellow cheese with no enchilada sauce, instead moistened by a thin red liquid that, for all it contributed, may as well have been tomato juice; the tostada a fried corn tortilla with a smudge of beans and greens. I headed straight for the salsa bar, loaded up little plastic cups of three types of chili sauce (red, green, and smoky), chopped onions, jalapeños, and a chunky salsa of tomato, onion, and cilantro, returned to my seat, and enhanced the blandness. The taco was as a taco should be, a few quick bites of chili-seasoned beef and crunch.

Burritos were better, especially the Fat Boy, stuffed with "the works" -- beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, and sour cream ($2.99). Quesadillas were good, too, crisply griddled, greaseless flour tortillas with melted yellow cheese (both staples of Tex-Mex, as opposed to the white cheese and corn tortillas of Mexico), and an assortment of additional fillings. Nothing beat the fajitas, though: tender, juicy chunks of flank steak and chicken breast grilled to order, with soft, warm flour tortillas made before our eyes. A platter includes two fajitas with rice and beans ($5.79); a family meal provides more meat (one half-pound for $7.99; one pound for $14.99), and the addition of sour cream, grated cheese, and grilled onions. Great deal.


Texas Taco Factory

1608 Alton Rd, Miami Beach; 305-535-5757.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 7:00 a.m. till 11:00 p.m. Also at 2755 NW 119 St, 305-953-6960, and 475 S Dixie Hwy, Coral Gables, 305-662-2212.

The Texas Taco Factory aims to satisfy adults as well as kids. I'm not just referring to the absence of any glitzy Pokémon giveaways, but to the half-dozen Mexican beers served in bottles, as well as the Dos Equis Amber on draft, sold by the pitcher or glass. Wine is available in the form of frozen margaritas -- or shall I say, mock-margaritas?

We are what we eat, we mock what we are to become, and I don't want to spend the rest of my days as a thin gray hamburger patty; that's partly why I don't frequent fast-food places. Mostly, though, it's because I don't care for the food. But the fajitas at the Texas Taco Factory are good enough, the rest of the fare fresh enough, and the prices attractive enough, that I just might return. This may not sound like the most ringing endorsement, but you should hear what I have to say about Taco Bell and that damn Chihuahua.


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